Song Exploder is a podcast where musicians take apart their songs, and piece by piece, tell the story of how they were made. Each episode features an artist discussing a song of theirs, breaking down the sounds and ideas that went into the writing and recording. Hosted and produced by Hrishikesh Hirway.
Brittany Howard is the guitarist and lead singer of the four-time Grammy-winning band Alabama Shakes. This month, she?s releasing her first solo album, called Jaime. In this episode, Brittany breaks down the song ?Stay High,? which was the album?s first single. She started working on it while staying at a house in Topanga Canyon, near LA.
Robyn is a Swedish singer and songwriter. Her first album came out in 1995, when she was 16 years old. It went platinum in the US, double-platinum in Sweden. Since then, she?s been nominated for five Grammys and started her own record label. But there was an eight-year gap between Robyn?s album Body Talk, which came out in 2010, and her most recent album, Honey, which came out last October. Time, Rolling Stone, and Pitchfork all named it one of the best albums of the year.
For Song Exploder, Robyn breaks down the song ?Honey,? the title track from that album. The first time the public heard the song was in a 2017 episode of the HBO show Girls, but that?s not the final version that was released on the album. In this episode, Robyn traces the long history of how she made ?Honey,? a song that The New York Times called ?her masterpiece.?
Justin Vernon founded the band Bon Iver in 2006. Bon Iver?s released four albums, and won two Grammys, including Best New Artist.
The most recent album, i,i, came out in August 2019, and in this episode, Justin breaks down a song from it called ?Holyfields,.? He?s joined by producers Chris Messina and Brad Cook. We spoke to him in July, from his studio in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, where the song started. They finished it at Sonic Ranch studio, in Tornillo, Texas, on the border of the US and Mexico.
Sleater-Kinney was formed in 1994 by Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein. Drummer Janet Weiss was a member of the band from 1997 until 2019. In Time Magazine in 2001, author and critic Greil Marcus named Sleater-Kinney ?America?s Best Band.? Over the years, they?ve made nine albums, including this year?s The Center Won?t Hold, which was produced by Annie Clark of St. Vincent. In this episode, Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein break down how the song ?The Future Is Here? was made.
Denzel Curry is a rapper from Miami. He started his career at age 16 as part of the hip hop collective Raider Klan. He released his first solo album while still in high school.
In May 2019 Denzel released his fourth album, ZUU. He made it with the Australian production duo FnZ, who have been collaborating with him since 2016. The album was named Best New Music by Pitchfork, and Denzel made his TV debut on The Tonight Show.
Jamila Woods is a singer, songwriter, and poet from Chicago. She?s released two albums, and she?s collaborated with artists like Chance the Rapper, Noname, and Macklemore.
In May 2019, she put out her second album, LEGACY! LEGACY!, to critical acclaim. NME called it one of the albums of the year, Rolling Stone called it a ?revelation,? and Pitchfork named it ?Best New Music.?
In this episode, Jamila and her producer Slot-A break down a song from that album, called ?BALDWIN,? named after the late author and civil rights activist James Baldwin.
Big Thief is a four piece folk-rock band from Brooklyn, New York. In May 2019, they released their third album, U.F.O.F., to critical acclaim. Pitchfork named it ?Best New Music.?
In this episode, singer Adrianne Lenker and drummer James Krivchenia break down a song from that album called ?Cattails.?
Sheryl Crow is a singer-songwriter from Missouri. She?s released ten studio albums, sold over 50 million records, and has won nine Grammys.
In April 2019, Sheryl Crow released a new version of her song ?Redemption Day,? which was first released on her self-titled album in 1996. This new version features vocals from Johnny Cash, who recorded a cover of the song that was released posthumously in 2010. And in this episode, Sheryl Crow breaks down how it all came together.
Raleigh Ritchie is the musical alias of Jacob Anderson, a musician and actor who?s probably best known for playing the character Grey Worm on Game of Thrones.
Raleigh Ritchie released his first album in 2016, and he?s put out a handful of EPs. In September 2018, he put out the single, ?Time in a Tree.? He made the song with Grammy-nominated producer Daniel Traynor, aka Grades. In this episode, the two of them take apart ?Time in a Tree? to explain how it came together, and how it was influenced by classic Hollywood movies, Billy Joel, and overwhelming anxiety.
John Darnielle has been writing and recording songs as the Mountain Goats since 1991. He?s released 17 studio albums, and also written two books of fiction.
In April 2019, the Mountain Goats released the album In League with Dragons, and in this episode, John Darnielle breaks down a song from it, called Cadaver-Sniffing Dog. We?ll hear his original demo, and then, hear how the song evolved at Blackbird Studios in Nashville, with the help of John?s band, some incredible session musicians, and producer Owen Pallett.
The Cranberries formed in Limerick, Ireland in 1989. Singer Dolores O?Riordan joined a year later, and the group went on to become one of the defining bands on the ?90s, eventually selling over 40 million records worldwide.
In January 2018, while the band was working on their eighth album, Dolores O?Riordan passed away unexpectedly. Later that year, remaining members Noel Hogan, Mike Hogan, and Fergal Lawler announced that they would end the band, and that this would be their final album. It's called In The End.
It was released in April 2019, and in this episode, guitarist and songwriter Noel Hogan breaks down a song from it called ?All Over Now.? You?ll hear how Hogan and O?Riordan first started the song, and how the remaining members worked to finish it without her.
Panda Bear is musician Noah Lennox. He?s a founding member of the experimental, genre-defying band Animal Collective, and as a solo artists, he?s released six albums.
In February 2019, Panda Bear released the album Buoys, and in this episode, he and his co-producer Rusty Santos break down the opening song, ?Dolphin.? You?ll hear the original demo, and how they drew inspiration from music from all over the world.
Sharon Van Etten is a singer and songwriter who?s put out five albums. She's also an actress?she?s in The OA and Twin Peaks. Her most recent album, Remind Me Tomorrow, came out in January 2019.
In this episode, Sharon breaks down a single from that album called ?Seventeen.? She shares the original demo she made with the song?s co-writer Kate Davis, and we?ll hear from producer John Congleton, who helped craft Sharon?s new, more electronic sound.
Nakhane is a singer and songwriter from Johannesburg, South Africa. His first album, Brave Confusion, won the South African Music Award for best alternative album in 2014. He starred in the award-winning film ?The Wound,? which was shortlisted for the Oscar for Best Foreign Film.
Nakhane?s second album, You Will Not Die, was originally released in 2018, and then released in the US in 2019, as a deluxe version. The deluxe version includes this song,?New Brighton,? featuring guest vocals from Anohni. In this episode, as Nakhane breaks the song down, he talks about his complicated relationship with Christianity, why the song wasn?t on the original version of the album, and what it was like to work with one of his musical heroes.
Mumford & Sons are a Grammy-winning band that formed in London in 2007. They?ve put out four albums, and sold millions of copies. Their last three albums have all debuted at number one on the Billboard charts. The most recent of those albums is Delta, which came out in November 2018. The band is made up of Marcus Mumford, Ben Lovett, Winston Marshall, and Ted Dwane, and in this episode, Marcus and Ben break down a song from Delta called ?Beloved.? You?ll how the song went from Marcus?s original raw voice memo to the intricate finished track.
Phoebe Bridgers is a singer-songwriter from Los Angeles. In September 2017, she released her debut album, Stranger in the Alps. One of the breakout songs from that album was ?Scott Street,? a song Phoebe cowrote with her drummer, Marshall Vore. In this episode, Phoebe and Marshall break down how the song went from an unfinished cassette recording, to an acoustic demo, to the finished album version.
The Daily is a hit podcast from The New York Times, hosted by Michael Barbaro. Every weekday, over 1.7 million people download the show. It launched in February 2017, and in honor of its two-year anniversary, we?re publishing a bonus episode about the show?s theme song, which was composed by Jim Brunberg and Ben Landsverk of Wonderly. It was originally published on the New York Times website, in 2018.
Japanese Breakfast is the musical project of Michelle Zauner, who?s been making music under that name since 2013. In July 2017, she released her second album, Soft Sounds from Another Planet, to critical acclaim.
In this episode, Michelle breaks down a song from that album called ?Boyish,? along with her co-producer and bandmate Craig Hendrix. We?ll hear the original demo, plus a version Michelle recorded with her old band. And she?ll talk about how her perspective on the song has changed over the years.
Andrew Hozier-Byrne is a Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter from Ireland. His debut single from 2013, ?Take Me to Church,? was a massive, multi-platinum hit.
In September 2018, Hozier released the song ?Nina Cried Power,? which features the legendary gospel singer Mavis Staples. In this episode, Hozier breaks down how he made the song, and Mavis Staples tells the story of how she got involved.
Yo-Yo Ma is perhaps the most famous and well-loved cellist in the world. He was born in Paris in 1955; his family moved to the U.S. when he was seven. He played for President Kennedy that year. He played at Carnegie Hall for the first time when he was 16. He?s won 18 Grammys, and he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
For this special episode of Song Exploder, Yo-Yo Ma talks about the Prelude to Johann Sebastian Bach?s Cello Suite No.1 in G Major. He discusses learning, performing, and recording the piece across 58 years of his life.
Thao Nguyen is taking over as the new host of Song Exploder in 2019. This is a reissue of an episode from 2016 in which she was the guest.
Thao & the Get Down Stay Down released the album A Man Alive in March 2016. In this episode, Thao Nguyen breaks down the song "Astonished Man." Thao talks about working with Merrill Garbus of Tune-Yards, who produced the album, and she speaks candidly about her relationship with her estranged father, the subject of the song.
Lindsey Buckingham is a singer-songwriter, a guitarist, and a producer. In 1974, he joined the band Fleetwood Mac, along with Stevie Nicks, his girlfriend at the time. A few year later, in 1977, Fleetwood Mac released the album Rumours, which would go on to sell over 40 million copies and become the eighth highest-selling album in history. In this episode, Lindsey Buckingham breaks down ?Go Your Own Way," a song he wrote for that album about his relationship with Stevie Nicks.
Four years ago, on November 24, 2014, the first episode of the podcast Reply All came out. It?s a podcast about the internet hosted by Alex Goldman and PJ Vogt. And since then, they?ve put out 131 episodes. The show has gotten over 100 million downloads so far. Robert Downey Jr. is going to star in a movie based on one of their episodes. And from the debut, it?s been one of my favorite podcasts. A while back, in 2015, I did a special edition of Song Exploder for Reply All, about their theme song by Breakmaster Cylinder. I?d hear the guys talk about the Mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder in the show?s credits, but I didn?t really know who or what that was. And I wanted to find out more. So in honor of the four year anniversary of Reply All?s launch, I?m putting out this special crossover episode for the first time here on Song Exploder.
Lorely Rodriguez is a singer, songwriter, and producer who goes by the name Empress Of. She?s released two albums, and she?s sung on tracks with Khalid, Blood Orange, and Dirty Projectors. Her first album, Me, was made on her own. But her second album, Us, features a bunch of collaborators. In this episode, Lorely breaks down the Empress Of song ?When I?m With Him.? She co-produced it with Jim-E Stack and Dan Nigro, and I spoke to Jim-E Stack for this episode, too. Lorely explained how collaborating with producers opened up her process. Plus, the song?s lyrics are in English and Spanish, and Lorely describes how she relies on both languages to write.
Big Boi is a rapper from Atlanta. When he was a teenager, he and Andre 3000 formed OutKast, and went on to sell over 25 million records and win six Grammys. He?s released three solo albums, including Boomiverse, which came out in 2017. In this episode, Big Boi breaks down a song from that album called ?Order of Operations.?
In 1978, John Carpenter wrote, directed, and scored the film Halloween. It was made on a $300,000 budget, and ended up grossing over $70 million, making it one of the most successful independent movies ever released. The main theme to the film became one of the most iconic pieces of cinematic music ever made. *Halloween *became a franchise with ten more Halloween films since the original. In 2018 a new Halloween film was released, directed by David Gordon Green. And for the first time since the first film, John Carpenter composed the score. That included remaking his theme song for the new film, this time with the help of his son Cody Carpenter and his godson Daniel Davies. In this episode, the three of them break down how they did it.
Janelle Monáe is an award-winning musician and actress who released her first record in 2007. She?s been nominated for multiple Grammys, and starred in the Oscar films Moonlight and Hidden Figures. In April 2018, she released her third album, Dirty Computer, which includes the song ?So Afraid.? In this episode, Janelle Monáe takes ?So Afraid? apart, to explain how she built it, step by step?beginning with a trip to the dentist.
Chan Marshall is a singer-songwriter who?s been making records under the name Cat Power since 1995. In 2018, she put out her tenth album, Wanderer. It includes this song "Woman," which has Lana Del Rey on backing vocals. In this episode, Chan breaks down the song and what it means to her, as she tells the story of how she made "Woman" in Miami and Los Angeles over the course of a few years.
Blood Orange is the project of songwriter and producer Devonté Hynes. He?s produced and co-written songs for artists like Carly Rae Jepsen, Solange, HAIM, and ASAP Rocky, among others. He?s been releasing his own music as Blood Orange since 2011. In August 2018, he released his fourth Blood Orange album, Negro Swan. In this episode, Dev breaks down how he made the song ?Saint.? You?ll hear the original version of the track from 2015, as well as the layers and voices that were added over years to create the final version that appears on the album.
Last week, Netflix released the fifth season of BoJack Horseman. I wanted to revisit this episode about the show?s Main Title Theme, which was written by Patrick Carney of The Black Keys, and his uncle, Ralph Carney, who passed away unexpectedly in December 2017.
BoJack Horseman is a Netflix original series, an animated comedy about a washed up 90s sitcom star who's trying to figure out his life and career without drowning in self-loathing and existential despair. It won the 2016 Critics Choice award for best animated series. The theme song for the show was created by Patrick Carney, who is one half of The Black Keys, and his uncle, Ralph Carney, a multi-instrumentalist who has worked artists like Tom Waits, St Vincent, The B-52s, Galaxie 500, and a lot more. But the track wasn't written for the show, originally; it was just something that Patrick and Ralph made without knowing what it was for. In this episode, the two break down how the song was created, and how it went from their long-distance collaboration to become a TV theme song.
The Decemberists are a Grammy-nominated five-piece band from Portland, Oregon. They released their first album in 2001, and since then they?ve put out seven more, including the 2018 album I?ll Be Your Girl. In this episode, singer and guitarist Colin Meloy breaks down The Decemberists? song ?Once In My Life," from his first demo, to the final tracks they recorded in the studio.
In honor of Mitski?s new album, ?Be the Cowboy,? here?s the episode she did in 2016. ? Mitski has been making records since 2012. Her third record, Puberty 2, came out in June 2016 and was critically acclaimed Pitchfork gave it Best New Music status. Her music has been featured in the tv show Adventure Time. In this episode, Mitski breaks down her song Your Best American Girl, along with her long-time collaborator Patrick Hyland.
Christine and the Queens is a singer, songwriter, and producer from France. Her debut album was first released in 2014 in French, and in 2015, she released an English version of it. It was critically acclaimed and she won the Victoire de le Musique?France?s equivalent of the Grammy?for Best Female Artist in 2015.In July 2018, she released the single ?Doesn?t Matter? in advance of her second album,Chris. Like before, she made a French version and an English version, but this time she wrote both versions simultaneously. In this episode, she talks about what that translation process was like, and the possibilities it opened up, as she takes apart "Doesn?t Matter." The song and the story first began in Chris?s basement.
Neko Case is a singer and songwriter. She?s been nominated for multiple Grammys, and in addition to her own music, she?s a member of the band The New Pornographers. In June 2018, she put out her 7th album, Hell-On, which she also co-produced. In this episode, Neko Case breaks down the song ?Last Lion of Albion.? Albion?s one of the oldest names for island of Great Britain, and it was while she was in England that this song first began. This episode is guest-hosted by Thao Nguyen (of Thao & The Get Down Stay Down).
Earlier this year, in May 2018, Courtney Barnett released her second album, Tell Me How You Really Feel. And last fall, she and Kurt Vile made an album together. So I thought this would be a good time to go back and listen to an episode she did in January 2016 about ?Depreston,? my favorite song from her first album. Here it is.
Courtney Barnett released her debut album in March 2015. By the end of the year, she had been nominated for a Grammy for Best New Artist, Spin named her the Songwriter of the Year, and she won four ARIA Music Awards in her native Australia. In this episode, Courtney Barnett breaks down the song "Depreston," which began with a visit to an open house, on a house-hunting trip she took in the town of Preston.
Action Bronson is a rapper from Queens who?s been making records since 2011. He also stars as the host of two TV shows about food on Vice?s channel, Viceland. His third album, Blue Chips 7000, came out in 2017, and features this song ? ?The Chairman?s Intent.? It was produced by his longtime collaborator, producer Harry Fraud. In this episode, Action Bronson and Harry Fraud tell the story of how ?The Chairman?s Intent? was made.
Jhené Aiko is a Grammy-nominated singer and songwriter. She?s released three albums so far. In addition to her own records, she?s been a featured guest vocalist on songs by Kendrick Lamar, Drake, Childish Gambino, and many, many others. In 2017, she released her third album, Trip, which debuted at #5 on the Billboard Charts, and includes the song "Sativa." The song features guest vocals from Swae Lee, who?s one half of the band Rae Sremmurd. In this episode, Jhené tells the story of how ?Sativa? was made, and how it got stuck, and then, how it got unstuck. She?s joined by producer Brian Warfield of the production duo Fisticuffs, who made the beat.
I interviewed the Scottish band CHVRCHES back in March 2016, in Austin, Texas. A few weeks ago, in May 2018, they released a new album called Love is Dead. It features contributions from David Stewart of the Eurythmics, and another past Song Exploder guest, Matt Berninger of The National. So in honor of CHVRCHES new record, I wanted to go back and listen to their episode again. Here it is:
CHVRCHES is a trio from Glasgow, Scotland. In this episode, they break down the song ?Clearest Blue,? from their sophomore album Every Open Eye. You?ll hear the band?s original demo as well as why they start songs with a set of rules, but then quickly abandon those rules.
This interview was recorded live at the Dropbox Podcast Studio at SXSW.
Yo La Tengo formed in 1984. The band is made up Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley, and James McNew. In March 2018, they released There?s a Riot Going On, their 15th album. They made the record themselves?they recorded it entirely in their rehearsal studio with James handling the engineering duties. The album came together slowly, over a few years. In this episode, Georgia, James, and Ira break down the experiments and accidents that led to the the closing track from the record, the song "Here You Are."
Wolf Alice is a band from North London. Their second album, Visions of a Life, was released in September 2017. In this episode, singer Ellie Rowsell and drummer Joel Amey tell the story of how they made the song ?Don?t Delete the Kisses.? The album was produced by Justin Meldal-Johnsen, and coming up later, you?ll hear some of his thoughts, as well. The song went through a lot of versions. A home demo that Ellie made, another demo with the full band, plus studio versions they recorded in LA with Justin. There were a lot of ideas that were created and then scrapped. In this episode, they trace the path through those ideas, as well how the song was influenced by Father John Misty, PJ Harvey, and the film Frances Ha.
In November 2015, I interviewed Kelela about her song ?Rewind,? from her debut EP, Hallucinogen. Since that EP was released, she's gone on to collaborate on songs with Gorillaz and Solange, and released her first full-length, Take Me Apart, which was named one of the Top 10 albums of 2017 by Vulture, Pitchfork, Cosmo, and a bunch of others. So I wanted to go back and revisit Kelela?s episode, which originally came out in January 2016. Here it is:
Kelela is a singer and songwriter based in Los Angeles. In 2015, she released Hallucinogen EP, and landed on critics lists in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Pitchfork, and more. In this episode, Kelela takes apart her song ?Rewind.? To make the track, she worked with five different producers, picking and choosing each for what they could best contribute to her overall vision for the song. This interview was recorded live in San Francisco at Fusion?s Real Future Fair.
Jon Hopkins is an electronic music producer whose been nominated twice for the UK?s Mercury Prize. Along with his frequent collaborator, Brian Eno, he co-produced Coldplay?s Grammy-award winning album, Viva la Vida. In May 2018, Jon Hopkins released his fifth album, Singularity. It was named Best New Music by Pitchfork. In this episode, Jon Hopkins takes apart the song "Luminous Beings," which was inspired in part by the meditative and therapeutic effects of psilocybin, the psychedelic compound found in magic mushrooms. Jon talks about his own experience with drug, and how it shaped this song. He also details the less magical moments where he hated the music was he making, and had to destroy it as part of the creative process.
In 1993, Liz Phair released her debut album, Exile in Guyville. It was an instant hit, critically and commercially. It sold hundreds of thousands of copies. Spin and The Village Voice named it album of the year. Soon after, Rolling Stone put her on the cover of their magazine. Now, twenty-five years later, Exile in Guyville is being reissued as a deluxe boxset with photos, essays, and Liz Phair's original four-track cassette recordings. In this episode, Liz and Exile in Guyville's producer, Brad Wood, look back to tell the story of the creation of one of the songs on the album, "Divorce Song."
Arcade Fire is a Grammy-winning six-piece band originally from Montreal. They?ve released five albums, and the last three have all debuted at number one on the charts. In this episode, singer Win Butler takes apart "Put Your Money On Me," from their 2017 album Everything Now. He breaks down how the influence of Marvin Gaye, Harry Nilsson, and ABBA all helped shape how the song eventually turned out. You?ll hear the original demo, and an alternate version of the song that was never finished. The story begins when Win and his wife and bandmate Régine Chassagne moved to New Orleans.
Kimbra is a singer from New Zealand. Her first album came out in 2011, and in 2013 she won two Grammys for her collaboration with Gotye, the multiplatinum hit song "Somebody That I Used to Know." In this episode, Kimbra breaks down a song from 2018 called "Top of the World,? a song she also made in collaboration?this time with artists Skrillex and Diplo.
Jack Johnson is a grammy-nominated singer-songwriter from Hawaii. He's had four number one albums on the Billboard charts. In September 2017, he released his seventh album, All the Light Above It Too, and in this episode, Jack Johnson breaks down a song about parenting, politics, and the ocean. It?s called "You Can't Control It."
Marvel?s Black Panther was released in theaters on February 16, 2018, and in just a few weeks, it made over a billion dollars worldwide. It?s already broken some box office records and it looks like it?s going to break some more. The score for the film was created by Swedish composer Ludwig Göransson. His film and TV credits include Creed and New Girl. He?s also Grammy-nominated producer, who?s worked most often with rapper Childish Gambino. In this episode, Ludwig takes apart one of his pieces from Black Panther. The track is called ?Killmonger,? and it?s the theme for Erik Killmonger, a character played by Michael B. Jordan. Black Panther is set in the fictional African nation of Wakanda, and coming up, Ludwig tells the story of doing research and making recordings in Africa, and how he incorporated that into the score for the film.
Natalie Prass released her debut album in 2015. That year, Time Magazine called her an Artist to Watch, Pitchfork gave the album Best New Music, and Stereogum named it one of the Top Albums of the Year. In this episode, Natalie Prass takes apart a new song form 2018, called "Short Court Style," her first track to come out since that debut album.
Moses Sumney is a singer-songwriter based in Los Angeles. His first album, Aromanticism, came out in September 2017, but before that, he?d already worked with an impressive and diverse list of collaborators, from Sufjan Stevens, to Solange, to Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, to Skrillex. That spirit continues with the song Moses takes apart in this episode, which has contributions from producer Cam O?bi, Paris Strother, and legendary bassist Thundercat.
Bleachers is the moniker of Jack Antonoff, a songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and producer. He won two grammy awards as a member of the band fun., and another for his production work on Taylor Swift?s album 1989. He?s also co-written songs with St. Vincent, Carly Rae Jepsen, Lorde, Sia, and more.
In June 2017, Antonoff released his second album as Bleachers, Gone Now. In this episode, he breaks down a song from that album, called ?I Miss Those Days" and traces the process of making it?from the original demo, to a version he discarded, to the final song.